-Dhriti Murthy

Quarantine, sanitizers, masks, Dalgona coffee and mug cakes-yes, the infamous 2020 starter pack. 3 months already into this routine, I did what every 20-year-old did- I binged Prime & Netflix. For a while, eat- sleep- binge- repeat had become a lifestyle I had accepted, at first willingly, and then out of habit and boredom. Workouts and crafting were off the table by the 4th month and so were lockdown cooking trials. One fateful day I decided to get off the bed and search the internet for “hobbies” I can adopt. While I perused through various blogs and posts, I found someone had posted about at-home composting and how that it had become an enjoyable hobby. “I’m NOT a boomer” was the first thing I thought to myself. But I decided to dig a little deep. Compost is an organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow. Food scraps and yard waste together currently make up more than 28 percent of what we throw away and should be composted instead. Making compost keeps these materials out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas. 

So, how could I mimic what is done in the landfills, at home? Won’t it smell all the time? Won’t it be tedious? What if the tools required are too costly? And a million other presumptions crossed my mind. But as I needed a new hobby, I took it up as a challenge. And let me tell you, I haven’t regretted it ever since! Want to know how? Keep reading for a simple how-to compost at home guide.

Here’s what you need to know. Composting requires three basic ingredients:

  • Browns – This includes materials such as dead leaves, branches, and twigs.
  • Greens – This includes materials such as grass clippings, vegetable waste, fruit scraps, and coffee grounds.
  • Water – Having the right amount of water, greens, and browns are important for compost development.

Your compost pile should have an equal amount of browns to greens. You should also alternate layers of organic materials of different-sized particles. The brown materials provide carbon for your compost, the green materials provide nitrogen, and the water provides moisture to help break down the organic matter. 

Items you can compost include fruits and vegetables, eggshells, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, nutshells, shredded newspaper, cardboard, paper, yard trimmings, grass clippings, and wood chips. Yes, most of your green waste can be composted!

Items you shouldn’t compost include black walnut tree leaves or twigs, coal or charcoal ash, dairy products (e.g., butter, milk, sour cream, yogurt) and eggs, diseased or insect-ridden plants, meat or fish bones and scraps, yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides as they might emit a pungent odor or may release toxic gases that are harmful to the plants itself or attract rodents!

Tools you need for composting are pitchforks, square-point shovels or machetes, and water hoses with a spray head if you are backyard composting or just a special bin if you are indoor composting. Smaller space, the easier it gets. 

If you are backyard composting, select a dry, shady spot near a water source for your compost pile or bin and add brown and green materials as they are collected, making sure larger pieces are chopped or shredded. Moisten dry materials as they are added. Once your compost pile is established, mix grass clippings and green waste into the pile and bury fruit and vegetable waste under 10 inches of compost material. You can also cover the top of compost with a tarp to keep it moist. When the material at the bottom is dark and rich in color, your compost is ready to use. This usually takes anywhere between two months to two years. 

And if you are indoor composting, then just remember to tend your pile and keep track of what you throw in. A properly managed compost bin will not attract pests or rodents and will not smell bad. Your compost should be ready in two to five weeks.

The benefits of composting includes:

  • Enriching the soil, helping retain moisture and suppress plant diseases and pests. 
  • Reducing the need for chemical fertilizers.
  • Encouraging the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create humus, a rich nutrient-filled material.
  • Reducing methane emissions from landfills and lowers your carbon footprint.

The benefits aren’t only for plants. It has been 4 months since I started and have found composting has calmed my anxiety. It has given me a sense of satisfaction in growing my organic vegetables and fruits with the help of home-produced compost. A new hobby, a fun way to release my stress, and most importantly a habit, if followed diligently, reduce the toxins in our food. All at the minimum cost!

The main thing to remember is that if an incorrect balance of ingredients is added to the compost pile, this imbalance will be carried to the soil with finished compost. Compost has four basic ingredients: nitrogen, carbon, water, and air. To create the ideal environment for compost, a 30:1 ratio of carbon to nitrogen is required. Nitrogen is supplied by grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and tea bags, while carbon comes from dry leaves, wood ash, sawdust, and shredded paper. Too much wood ash from a fireplace can result in low nitrogen in the soil, which will hinder garden plant growth.  

It might take a few tries to get right. But if done perfectly, at-home composting is your new quarantine best friend!

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